Curandera, Shaman

"Shamanic Voices: a survey a visionary narratives"

by Joan Halifax, Ph.D. (1991)


Maria Sabina,
Mazatec healer, curandera, and Shaman. A native of Huautla de Jimenez, in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, passed away in 1985 at the age of 91. She is famous for the role she played introducing the sacred mushroom ceremony velada to the world.


In the early 1930's, prior to Maria's rise to prominence, Robert J. Weitlaner, witnessed, but it is not recorded he participated in, the Mazatec mushroom ceremony just northeast of Oaxaca.


On July 16, 1938, his daughter Irmgard, with an anthropologist who eventually became her husband, Jean Bassett Johnson, together with two others, Bernard Bevan and Louise Lacaud, attended a mushroom rite in Huautla.


Johnson later gave a full account of the event and were the first white persons "recorded" to attend such a ceremony (although it is said they did not participate in the ceremony or ingest the mushrooms).


Throughout the intervening years numerous reports have surfaced, although none officially recorded, of other white men having actually participating in the ceremony. Of those, there is only one of any note, that being a mysterious hallucinogenic bio-searcher and mushroom hunter from the Taos, Santa Fe, New Mexico area who had several species named after him and said to be married to a very powerful curandera Shaman himself.


In 1955, Gordon Wasson and Allan Richardson, made history by becoming the first KNOWN white men documented or publicized to participate in the nocturnal mushroom ceremony.


Under the guidance of Maria Sabina, Wasson and Richardson each consumed six pairs of the mushroom Psilocybe caerulescens var. mazatecorum after which they began to feel the effects, manifesting visions of geometric patterns, palaces, and architectural vistas. The results of that experience was published in Life Magazine, May 13 1957, in an article titled "Seeking the Magic Mushroom."


That article is considered the inspiration for Dr. Timothy Leary and others to try similar mushrooms and hallucinogens.

"I was eight years old when a brother of my mother fell sick. He was very sick, and the shamans of the sierra that had tried to cure him with herbs could do nothing for him.


Then I remembered what the teo-nanacatl [mushrooms] told me: that I should go and look for them when I needed help. So I went to take the sacred mushrooms, and I brought them to my uncle's hut. I ate them in front of my uncle, who was dying. And immediately the teo-nanacatl took me to their world, and I asked them what my uncle had and what I could do to save him.


They told me an evil spirit had entered the blood of my uncle and that to cure him we should give him some herbs, not those the curanderos gave him, but others. I asked where these herbs could be found, and they took me to a place on the mountain where tall trees grew and the waters of a brook ran, and they showed me the herb that I should pull from the earth and the road I had to take to find them...


[After regaining consciousness] it was the same place that I had seen during the trip, and they were the same herbs. I took them, I brought them home, I boiled them in water, and I gave them to my uncle. A few days later the brother of my mother was cured."

Maria Sabina had visions on the "little saints" that someone (Wasson) was coming and would take the tradition to the world after 500 years of secrecy under Spanish rule.


As a result of that action, giving the secrets of the "little saints" to outsiders, her son was murdered and her house burned to the ground. During the later years of her life she lamented that "the power of the sacrament had been lost in the clouds," and ending up speaking English instead of the Mazatec. She lived to age 91, passing away on November 22, 1985.

Carlos Castaneda, the best selling author that wrote many, many books where he outlined how he became a sorcerer's apprentice under the auspices of a Yaqui Indian shaman he called Don Juan Matus is reported to have a connection to Maria Sabina.


Anthropologist Jay Courtney Fikes in his book Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties (1993) even goes as far to suggests that rather than being one individual, the chance exists that Don Juan was actually a composite of two or possibly even three authentic Indian shamans, of which one was Maria Sabina.